Embracing and Promoting Active Learning

This article from a colleague up in Oberlin was shared with our campus today, and I felt it was worth sharing here too.

Preparing the Environment for Active Learning, by Steven Volk, Professor of History and Director, Center for Teaching, Innovation, and Excellence

I feel like so much of what I do as the Instructional Technologist on campus is to promote active learning. That is ultimate goal of educational technology, but accomplishing it starts well before and goes well beyond deciding which tools to use. The question is what can educators do to best engage the attention, curiosity, intrigue, and passion of our students. The answer involves a lot more than tools, just lecturing, or predominately doing any single teaching practice. To best engage students, provide them plenty of opportunities to encounter course content in as many ways as possible. Technology enables us to reach and engage them in various ways at many times and places.The smiling 2016 Lakota Spring Break Mission Team, OWU

Information Overload at ILiADS 2015

I was composing a list of new tools that have come up in discussion and/or are being supported this week…

When you go to a conference–or, in this case, an institute–you typically learn of new tools to try, tools that might save you time or allow you to do something special in your courses. This being an institute for project teams, there’s a lot of focus on tools and methods.

There’s also a lot of focus on collaboration and new people to meet and colleagues you haven’t seen in a while to catch up with and consortia and communication and…

This being an institute, rather than a conference, there’s also been work to do, and we’ve made considerable headway on our project. I’m learning a lot about Omeka and Neatline, tools we’re using for the project.

Then in one of the panel presentations a colleague shared something that gave me pause: Slow Scholarship.

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This was much needed, and I’ve been ruminating on it (and everything else) since…

Oh, but instead of compiling a list of tools on my own, here’s a link to the “Google Doc of Google Docs”: Useful resources for ILiADS Attendees, which has a link in it to another document with a lengthy list of tools.

ID

I’ve been thinking lately about my role on campus, or my official role, what it should be, what it could be. These thoughts often revolve around language and labels and titles. For example, what’s the difference between an Instructional Technologist and an Instructional Designer? Recollections of past conversations come to mind, like the time the new Academic Dean came to meet me and asked, “So you’re the instructional designer on campus?” I replied with enthusiasm, “That’s the kind of work I’d like to do more of.” Another memory is of a casual conversation I had with a colleague at Capital U. Her department had just created a new ID position; I expressed interest in it. She asked if I was certain–the role involved many hours working closely with faculty to effectively use online tools and, basically, redesign their courses. Yeah, I’m excited by the thought of creating engaging learning environments/exercises and facilitating that “Aha!” moment.ZoeiGifts2014

To me, it seems the difference is somewhat subtle with some overlap–a venn diagram of sorts. (Or like the difference between the two pieces of artwork my daughter did, above.) “Instructional Technologist” and my background, btw, is more about tech support, while “Instructional Designer” is more about educational consultation, crafting educational experiences. Technical training fits in there nicely with both. I had the title “Help Desk Manager and Technical Trainer” when I first started at OWU and, when I took the newly created position of OWU’s first Instructional Technologist, the second part of the title was dropped but the duties continued. I don’t have a problem with that, as technical training supports both technical support and instructional design. It just doesn’t directly get at the heart of educational course design.

My well-worn professional sense is that instructional design (ID) by an instructional technologist or anyone else in higher ed is largely about faculty development. It’s not on the front lines of teaching, but it aims to equip and empower instructors to be the best that they can be. It also aims to do the same for students, and it goes about that by making the best use of tools to accomplish excellence in teaching and learning. As the previous Academic Dean once told me, encouraging me to be a part of Teaching Circle and other faculty forums, faculty don’t always know what tools are available to them, let alone how to use them. Getting them to understand the value of good instructional design is a large part of the work, at least initially.

As more colleges like ours experiment with online offerings and embrace technology as a distinguishing feature of what they offer incoming students, the value of good instructional design will become more evident. Certainly if administrators wish to do any data analysis on learning outcomes institution-wide, they’ll need learning and teaching processes that can produce such data. Most of all, faculty who wish to excel at teaching and make a positive difference in the academic and adult life of their students should be interested in instructional design, as the professors who attend Teaching Circle are.

Lastly, these thoughts of “Designer” versus “Technologist” play on my own sense of professional identity. Am I a technocrat, as an international colleague oft referred to me? Or am I a designer of instruction, one who happens to be familiar and highly-skilled with several good instructional tools? I just learned about POD, the Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education, a professional association. Knowledge of this network has me intrigued; the focus is not on technology. It’s on teaching and learning. It sounds like it would be a good affiliation for me to do more faculty development, regardless of my official title.

Updates and reruns

Our WordPress server, 15 plugins, and 8 themes have all been updated. So I’m trying out new features:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S-PnuJ5qyRI

Now that’s nice! As soon as I pasted in the URL for my old YouTube video, it appeared in the post editor. Also, browsing for new plugins should be easier. Now, on to testing other sites…

 

The fall semester is in full swing, nearly three weeks in. Things are still quite busy here due to a position vacancy, but it feels like the faculty are settled into their teaching routines. I’ll be giving the first Faculty Noon Seminar next Wednesday on “Flipped Out! Blended / Hybrid Learning in Liberal Arts” …more to come.

 

BlendKit Reading response for Week 4

This week’s topic is blended content and assignments, another good reading. I liked the emphasis on integrating the online and face-to-face components of the course to make one, seamless experience for the students. There was a helpful discussion of learning activities with and without technology. I’d say the many apps and sites and services under the heading of Technique (How) only scratched the surface of what’s out there. In fact, Fargo.io, an outliner site/service, was mentioned on NPR on Monday.

In other, synchronicitous news, there was an article in Science Magazine reporting that lectures aren’t just boring–they’re ineffective. Active learning trumps passive learning any day. The more the brain is engaged in the process the better it learns.BlendKit Course Badge

And it was good timing that I also attended a Blackboard webinar on badges today. Lots of ways to make learning more engaging and active and rewarding! I’ve actually earned 12 badges so far in this MOOC, and one of them is displayed above. Badges may now be awarded in Blackboard too, and our OWU Blackboard is currently getting an upgrade to Service Pack 14 (all the way from SP 6!) Come fall, I’ll be doing a lot more to promote the use of Blackboard features to make courses more blended and more engaging.

 

 

YAOS – Yet Another Online Store

Blackboard, the mammoth, monolithic LMS is announcing “a new resource that further simplifies the teaching and learning experience: the Blackboard Store(TM).” I can’t imagine how offering students or faculty another store with another expanding collection of apps/building blocks/publisher integrations/service providers is going to further simplify the teaching and learning experience. Here in the U.S. we’re paralyzed by the paradox of choice, and higher education is no exception.

Blackboard Logo

“Study hard. Shop easy.”

Reflections on BlendKit2014 week 2

A comment in the webinar on Monday: “At its heart, Blended learning is about diversity: diversity in learning styles, diversity in time, etc.” I like that, and feel that more instructors need to honor diversity in their teaching.

Our topic for this second week is blended interactions. How do/will we interact with our students in face-to-face versus online encounters? Discussions can take place in both modalities, online may be asynchronous in discussion forums or synchronous in chat rooms. F2F should reinforce/compliment online interactions and vice-versa.

Another comment in the webinar, in response to faculty balking at blended learning, calling it a fad: “They have to experience it to be convinced.” I sure hope not. The fact is that blended learning has been around for over 10 years and has been well documented. And as the saying goes, experience is the best teacher but only a fool learns from no other.

Avoiding ‘a course and a half’ or adding additional work for the students when incorporating online interactions was discussed. The importance of keeping it simple was stressed.

One piece of feedback on the technology used for the course, and this is feedback specifically on Adobe Connect: the interface is cluttered and clunky, especially compared to the much simpler interface of tools such as Skype, Google Hangouts or BlueJeans.

Webinar

Lastly–for now–the importance of balance has been a recurring theme, balance between f2f & online, as well as balance between structure and flexibility. I think it’s great that blended learning mirrors life. In life, in general, you have to find balance in lots of different ways. Blended learning is not overly analytical, not too emergent, not too this or too much that. And that brings us back to diversity. 🙂

NowComment for turning documents into conversations

It seems every other day I learn of some online tool or system that can be used to improve education, and many of them are free. Today I learned of NowComment and got to try BlueJeans.

NowComment

NowComment I haven’t tried yet, but it was recommended by a colleague. With it you can upload files or use public docs and create discussion forums on them. You can also sort comments, skim summaries, create assignments, hide comments, reply privately, and much more. Accounts on NowComment are offered for free.

BlueJeans web conferencing

I actually got to try BlueJeans web conferencing. It was easy to set up and get started. While in the webinar it had the feel of a Google Hangout–smooth and distraction-free. I checked their website for pricing info, didn’t find any, so I assume it’s expensive.

The Maker Movement takes a giant leap forward

I just learned of this new 3D printer that uses paper (instead of spools of plastic floss) as input material and prints in full color! It’s absolutely amazing what one can now do with a 3D printer. The manufacturing industry may be ripe for disruption like the music and news industries over the last decade or so.

The Mcor Iris

Box of Tricks

I was working with a student this morning, assisting her to learn WordPress and build a professional portfolio site. She’s doing an independent study this year on the use of technology in education–right up my alley. She asked if I had heard of Box of Tricks. No, but when she showed me the site and its list of over 200 tried and tested internet resources, there were many there that I was familiar with. It was nice to have a little collegial exchange sprinkled amongst our mentor/pupil session, one of the many reasons I love my job.

3D Printing in BOMI

Our Botany & Microbiology Department recently acquired a MakerBot Replicator 2 printer. For now, it’s being used to construct custom-made pieces of equipment for research in their labs. Professor Chris Wolverton arranged for its purchase and coordinates its use in his teaching lab. He calls it “a prototype builder” because you can print something out and take a look at it–more than that, you get a tactile appreciation of the piece–and easily identify opportunities for improvement. The equipment his student is producing now is not what he originally envisioned, it’s better.

Junior BOMI Major, Patrick Zmina knew he was going to be the one to learn how to use it as soon as he found out we had one. He quickly became the primary user of the printer and is happy to share what he’s picked up so far. He cautions that you can’t let the workstation go to sleep when in the midst of a job, which can take several hours. The printer will still be communicating with the computer, but it will no longer be functioning. You might wind up with the start of a piece and a glob of plastic on top. Although many free designs are available with the software and online, he’s had to learn both Google SketchUp and MarkerBot’s own MakerWare to build custom pieces for the labs. He knows these are marketable skills applicable to many careers, and he’s having fun.

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